Galatians 5:13-26 (AD 48)
Religious people don’t merely disagree with the Biblical doctrine of salvation through grace, by faith alone. They’re horrified by it.
I’ve had conversations when, after I explain grace, they looked at me like I’d just said my wife told me I could sleep with other women. The idea of grace, one cult evangelist said, was ridiculous “it’s a license – it means you can do anything you like.”
“Why would I do that,” I replied, “when Jesus died to save me from all of it? And anyway, what you ‘want’ to do changes when you become a Christian. Although I’m tempted like everyone else, I don’t want to disobey God. So no, it’s nothing like a license.”
There are countless people who claim to belong to Christ, but who “use [their] freedom to indulge the flesh” (v.13). That is, they declare something or think something to themselves, then believe themselves to be forgiven for their sins. On that basis, they decide that it doesn’t matter how they behave. ‘Once saved, always saved,’ becomes a mantra not to comfort the anxious, but an excuse for immoral living.
People see that and assume those people are Christians and, therefore, that the idea of grace is evidence that Christianity is nonsense. It’s understandable. It’s also a key reason the idea must be spoken out against. When a professing Christian tells you that their adultery is OK because “God knows where I am”, or “It’s OK, I’m good with God”, or “I didn’t plan it”, or “I can’t help it”, or “God put them in my life”, or “God wants me to be happy”, they give people a good reason to reject God. A good excuse to look at Christianity and find it intellectually redundant and morally risible. An understandable provocation to stay in their godless lostness, or enslave themselves to the lostness of false religion.
So what’s the opposite of indulging every sinful desire? Ascetism? Denial of everything fun or nice? Mandatory teetotalism and the strictest dress codes?
No, the opposite of indulging every sinful desire is “joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control” (v.22-23), which is simultaneously the fruit of and keeping in step with Holy Spirit. As we grow in loathing for all sin, our relationships with other people improve (ref v.15 & 26) and we look forward in confidence to the day when we inherit the kingdom of God, when we will be surrounded only by goodness, kindness and mercy.